In honor of Veda’s birthday… My birth story
Full disclosure—-this story is full disclosure! The birth stories with nitty-gritty details were the ones that helped me feel most prepared, so I am compelled to be honest and complete in the telling of my own. Labor and birth is undeniably amazing, beautiful, and well—humbling and gross. Oh, and this story is ridiculously long because my labor was ridiculously long. So there’s that reality, too. :)
I feel like my birth story began at around 35 weeks… I had Braxton Hicks pretty regularly that left me bracing myself in door frames and feeling quite confused as to whether or not “this was it.” Because of this—as well as having a due date that changed quite a bit in my first few prenatal appointments—I was convinced that this baby was coming early.
However, days and weeks went by, and my “contractions” never lasted longer than an hour or two.
On Monday, July 23, my midwife, Adele, asked me if I’d like to be checked to see if these Braxton Hicks were “getting me anywhere.” YES. Please tell me that my living in constant anticipation is getting this baby closer! I found out that I wasn’t dilated, but I was almost completely effaced. While I was secretly hoping to be chilling out at 8 centimeters, I was still happy with that news. Better something than nothing at all.
On Friday, I took an extra long morning walk with our dog, hoping to induce labor. Just as we were getting back to our apartment, (around 11am) I lost my plug. I was stoked. I texted my husband first, then texted Lauren and a few other friends and family members. I knew that it could still be days, but I was so excited to see another sign that REAL labor was coming! About 30 minutes later, contractions started. These were different. I could tell that these were the real thing. They were stronger than any of my Hicks, but still only about 20 minutes apart. These lasted all day.
That evening, I took a shower, and a few minutes after stepping out, I was talking to my husband, when he stared at me and said “I think your water’s breaking!” It was a slow trickle, then a small gush—maybe a cup of water, if that. Matt had been wanting my water to break for days—I had tried reminding him that this didn’t always happen before labor—but he was on high-alert-water-watch.
Needless to say, this made. his. life.
We were both ecstatic— he updated his Facebook status about the miracle that he had just witnessed, and I called my mom. I then called my midwife, who told me that we should sleep while we could. Matt packed up everything in the car, and we went to bed a couple hours later. Matt slept like a rock. I slept terrible—waking up every 20 minutes and having to get on all fours to handle each contraction. I was surprised that my moaning through contractions never woke him up, but I was grateful, knowing that he would need energy once things got more intense.
By Saturday morning, contractions had picked up to about every 10 minutes. Matt was supposed to work at 6:30am that morning, but had called out the night before, thinking that we would surely be going to Andaluz, our birth center, sometime in the night. By 11am, I told him to go into work. Obviously, this wasn’t going to happen anytime soon. Lauren came over that afternoon and brought me a Panera panini for lunch, and we took another (even longer) walk. The contractions seemed to get closer together, but they weren’t displaying a regular pattern. Around 4pm, I used my breast-pump to try and increase the frequency of my contractions. Almost immediately, they became much more intense, and only about a minute and a half apart. I started freaking out after 10 minutes, as I was home alone. So I turned the pump off and texted Matt. He came home, and they had slowed back down, so I used the pump again, and had similar results. Matt called his mom, as she was our designated dog-sitter, and we headed to the birth center around 6pm.
The contractions had gradually slowed down again after I stopped pumping, and I was crying by the time we got to Andaluz. I was overwhelmed, tired, and still didn’t really feel like this was the “real thing” yet, even though everyone around me seemed to think so—and I desperately wanted it to be.
Adele took my vitals, listened to the baby, and checked to see if I had dilated. I was at 1.5-2 cm. She sent us home, and told me to stop using the pump, and timing my contractions. She told me to just let my body decide when it was ready for labor to pick up, and that I would know without a doubt when it was time to come back to the birth center—I wouldn’t need a stopwatch to tell me.
We returned home, a little bummed out, but I was feeling more relaxed without my stopwatch app constantly running. My mother-in-law was at our apartment by this time, and we all went to sleep. My contractions slowed way down that night, and didn’t wake me up nearly as often. I was relieved to get some rest. Despite everyone’s hunch that we would be waking up in the wee hours of the morning ready to go back to the birth center, another night came and went.
Sunday morning, my contractions felt about the same as they had the day before. This was my due date—so much for the baby coming early! Matt, his mom, and I ordered a big brunch from Village Inn and got it to-go. They were both very sweet, trying to make the day feel low-pressure and relaxed. I texted my mom saying that I didn’t have any new news. I could tell that she was clearly concerned for me and the baby. This labor was taking too long, my water had been broken too long, and she wasn’t so cool with this natural childbirth plan we had anymore. I told her that I trusted Adele, trusted my body, and that the baby and I were doing fine, so I needed her support.
Later, I found out that my grandma had called my mom twice in the middle of the night in a crazy panic. She told my mom that she needed to step in and take me to a hospital because my midwife was obviously a quack, and I was in danger. My mom tried to calm her down, but grandma was not having it, so my mom ended up hanging up on her both times. Despite her knowing that grandma was being irrational, it put her own mind in a tailspin and started worrying her, too.
Even though I still wanted to stick to our plan, my mom’s anxiety began to rub off on me. Matt was still confident in the process, but called Adele for advice on how to calm my fears. She told him that what I was experiencing was “Phase 1” of labor—often referred to as “pre-labor.” With her own first pregnancy, she experienced four days of this. She suggested that we tell worried friends and family that I wasn’t really in labor after all, as we had already excitedly told just about everyone we knew. She also was confident that my water hadn’t fully broken, but that it had only sprung a “high leak” based on how little water I had lost. If it had really broken, it would have been closer to a liter or two of water, and would be gushing with every contraction. I hadn’t seen any additional water loss since Friday night. Matt called my mom and told her all of this, per my request. This calmed her down, and put my mind at ease as well. He also posted this update on Facebook, and asked everyone please not to worry and to stop texting us, as this was even harder on us than it was on them.
As yet another evening approached, the contractions began picking up both in frequency and intensity. I spent most of the afternoon and evening on my knees, leaning my elbows onto our exercise ball in our living room. Unbeknownst to me, Matt began timing my contractions again, texted Adele, and made plans for us to head back to the birth center while keeping me as uninformed and calm as possible. Love that man—but more on this later.
We arrived at the birth center around 11:30pm. Matt was really excited, saying that we might meet the baby by morning. Me, on the other hand? I was jaded. Even though I knew that these contractions were definitely a lot more serious than they had been for our last trip to the birth center, I wasn’t very excited. I was anticipating a bajillion more hours of this—an “it ain’t over until the fat lady sings” type of mentality—not really allowing myself to get excited. I continued in my favorite all-fours position for awhile, rotating between their birthing ball and a mountain of pillows on the bed, as they encouraged me to try and sleep between contractions. I was getting quite uncomfortable though, so I kept trying new positions to get relief. I tried getting in the shower, the tub, back to the bed, then back to the ball… You get the idea.
At this point, I had no concept of time. There are no clocks in the birthing rooms, and I was glad. My husband might tell you that I am a control-freak… So the whole process of labor was a feat for me to surrender to, so I had to consciously remind myself not to care how long this was taking, or to pressure myself to hurry up. That said, sometime in the night, Adele checked me again, and I was at 6cm. I had self-talked myself to have no expectations or minimum requirements to meet when she checked me, so 6cm felt like good news to me. A blur of more hours of contractions continued on, and I remember having to go pee between every single one. Matt made a comment again about how we might meet our baby soon, and that the sun would be rising shortly. I remember being annoyed that he spoiled the secret of what time it was, hardly being able to believe we had been at the birth center so long already—and that fat chance, this baby was not coming soon.
The sun came up, and still no baby. It was Monday. More hours went on of more contractions, making low noises and horse lips (like Ina May’s book had instructed me) carried on. I remember hearing voices outside the door of people coming and going for their appointments at the birth center. Around 4pm, we noticed clear little membrane pieces floating in the tub water, indicating that my water had fully broken. Adele checked me again, and I was at 8cm. Again, I hadn’t allowed myself to have expectations, so I was happy to at least have progressed. A few hours later, we started noticing Meconium in the tub water. I tried not to worry, as Adele said it was normal, and just fine. I also began feeling the urge to push, and getting increasingly uncomfortable. Matt texted our families, telling everyone that I was ready to push. They were all anxiously waiting at our apartment, about 5 minutes away. This made me upset. I felt pressured to hurry up for them, as they had been waiting around so long for this baby to come, and that for all I knew it could still be weeks until this darn baby showed her face. Matt felt bad, but tried to calm me down, ensuring me that no one was pressuring me, and that they would wait as long as they needed to.
However, around the same time, my contractions slowed down significantly. As you can imagine, I was pretty darn exhausted at this point. Matt later told me that as I leaned up against him in the tub, I would be grunting and tense through a contraction, and as soon as it was over, I was literally limp and snoring until the next one came on. Adele said that it was okay that my contractions had slowed so much—that my body was providing itself an opportunity to rest to gear up for the big event. She encouraged me to try and ride out the contractions without consciously pushing, but to allow my body to push on it’s own. This was hard. Sometimes it worked, but more often than not, I felt like I couldn’t help but push and exert a lot of energy in doing so for relief.
More hours went by, and my contractions weren’t picking up. Adele decided we should probably try and replenish my body a bit, to get my energy back up. I hadn’t eaten anything since that Village Inn brunch on Sunday). She gave me some yogurt, toast with peanut butter and honey, and a couple glasses of Emergen-C. I also got out of the tub, which was where I had been for most of the day, and took a walk up and down the hall. My muscles were sore all over—especially my legs, since I had spent so many hours on my knees. Adele checked me, and I was just about completely dilated, and we could feel the baby’s head, only about an inch up inside me. At this point, someone realized (Me? Adele? Her assistant? I’m not sure.) that I hadn’t peed in several hours. I felt like I needed to, but couldn’t when I tried.
Labor is so glamorous, isn’t it?
Adele and her assistant set me up with a catheter to give me some relief. They took that out, then set me up on an IV to rehydrate me and hopefully further increase my energy. I walked around while absorbing 2 liter bags of sugar water, and cried to Matt. I felt like I could hardly move. My muscles were so sore and stiff, the baby was so low that it was difficult to walk, and while the food and liquids were helping, I still felt like I was getting to the point of being too exhausted to reach the finish line. My contractions had slowed to 15-20 minutes apart, and were losing their intensity. Adele gave me several herbal supplements and tinctures to help with energy, and had a conversation with us about what was next. She told us she had already called Legacy Emmanuel Hospital, and talked to their on-call CNM (Certified Nurse Midwife). Adele and the nurse agreed that we should try using a breast-pump to kick start my contractions back up, and if that didn’t produce results, that we should probably go to the hospital for Pitocin. They only had a manual pump at the birth center, so I suggested that a family member bring us my double electric pump, since our apartment was so close by. My mother-in-law, mom, and brother all came to drop off the pump, and used it as an excuse to meet this midwife for themselves. Matt and Adele met them all downstairs, and updated them on how I was doing, that the baby was doing great and showing no signs of distress, and what the next steps were. Our family members all felt a sense of relief after speaking with Adele firsthand. None of them had ever been a part of an all natural birth before, and didn’t know much about it. My mom later told me that they all went back to our apartment feeling confident in Adele’s abilities, and that the possibility of needing to go to the hospital never sounded like an emergency or act of desperation—just the next step in Adele’s plan, and everything was under control.
Now let me re-visit my brief mention of how amazing Matt was through all of this… Matt was extremely attentive and involved through every step of the way. He helped me get comfortable, pushed on my back and hips, gave me sips of water between contractions, helped me walk and get around, spent many hours next to or in the tub with me, allowed me to squeeze his hand to death, push all my body weight against him, and otherwise completely support me physically. All the while, he was keeping our families updated and calm, never taking breaks longer than a quick sprint to the bathroom. He was also extremely positive and encouraging every step of the way, always aiming to keep my mood up and stamp out any worries or doubt. He believed that I could do this, constantly told me I was doing great, was never worried or panicked, and constantly “had a feeling” that the baby was almost here. While I rarely agreed with his hunches of labor being almost over, I deeply appreciated his (albeit disillusioned) optimism. Even Adele and her assistants were amazed at how great of a birth partner he was, asking if he had done this before with a sister, perhaps? He couldn’t possibly be doing this well without prior experience or training! I always knew he would make a great partner through this, but he definitely exceeded all of our expectations.
After our family left, I asked for a minute alone with Matt before we started the pump. He could tell that I was discouraged, and told me to believe that the pump would work. I needed to stay positive, because we weren’t at the end yet. That was hard for me, but I tried to do it for him. At this point, I actually felt scared of the rest of my labor. The contractions had become so far and few between, and slight in intensity, that I wasn’t looking forward to it all getting stronger and frequent again. I also remembered how instantly intense the pump had kicked my “pre-labor” contractions up, and these pushing contractions hurt a heckuva lot more than those ever did. I sat on the toilet (the most comfortable position I could get in, even though it still felt awful) crying, while Matt and Adele gave me a pep talk and did their best to pad the toilet seat and space behind me with towels, to get me as comfortable as possible. Adele said that plenty of people had babies on toilets, and that I could relax and let this baby come. We started up the pump, and waited. Twenty minutes passed, and there were no changes in my contractions. Adele told me to go on a little walk while we waited a few minutes, then we would try the pump again.
Now the hospital seemed a lot more likely. Matt and I were both stressed—we walked down the hall and realized that, not only was this not in our original plan, but that we hadn’t really agreed upon what our alternate plan would look like. Adele had told me that they would likely suggest an Epidural for me at the hospital, since I was so tired, and she said that I may want to consider it. When I told Matt this, he was very against it. We had watched “The Business of Being Born” and it freaked us out. We wanted to make a more informed choice, and try to let my body do what the female body was designed to do on it’s own. The film had encouraged us to challenge our idea of following what everyone else did—going straight to the hospital, being induced if things were taking “too long”, get the Epidural, and boom—have the baby. We were worried about the short and long term affects that drugs might have on the baby. However, while I knew labor could be long, I had no idea that it would take this long. I was at the point that I felt I might just accept an Epidural, if it were offered to me. I actually told Matt that I just wanted to go to the hospital and get a freaking C-section already because I felt like this baby was never coming out. I knew that this was irrational, even in the moment, but I was feeling defeated, to say the least. I felt guilty, and wanted to push through for Matt. Personally, I believed that while it was my body, it was still Matt’s baby in there, too. So as far as I was concerned, he had a say in how this all went down, and it wasn’t only up to me. At that moment, I just felt so weak, I could hardly stand, and didn’t know how I could possibly go the rest of the way, especially not knowing how much longer I had to go. Matt was upset, and went outside in the hallway to be alone for a bit. I went back to the birthing room, and Adele told me that we should really think about going to the hospital. I appreciated her ability to read the situation, both emotionally and physically. After a few minutes, I met Matt in the hallway and told him that Adele thought it was time to go. He told me that he wasn’t upset with me, he was just blown away that this plan wasn’t working, despite all the research and prayer that we had put into making the decision to go this route. He felt bad that I was so tired, and didn’t want to deny me relief, but he was afraid of a “hospital birth” and what drugs could do to me or the baby.
With tensions still high, and without an agreed upon “Plan B,” Matt packed up the car and we headed to the hospital. Adele rode with us in the car, and her assistant followed behind. It was an uncomfortable ride, but luckily there was no traffic at 2am on a Tuesday. Matt dropped Adele and I off at the Emergency entrance, as it was the only entrance open at that hour. Adele helped me into a wheelchair, Matt parked the car, and he and the midwife assistant met us inside. She wheeled me to the Labor and Delivery wing, where we met about ten nurses standing around the desk, who apparently were all expecting me and knew my story. A few of them asked how I was doing, since they knew it had been so long. I remember I appreciated their sympathy, but hardly had the energy to be polite and maintain smalltalk. I was quickly given a room. It was huge, with room for Matt and the midwives to comfortably remain included. It had wood floors and was dimly lit, so it didn’t feel overly sterile or bright. Matt and I were pleasantly surprised by this. Adele excitedly told me that her favorite CNM, Liz Robinson, was the one on call tonight, and assured me that I was in good hands. Liz, and the nurse, Tacie, both introduced themselves and asked me to tell my story. They especially wanted clarification on when my water broke, and how long we had noticed the Meconium in the water. Once it was clear that my water had only leaked on Friday, and hadn’t fully broken until that afternoon, they seemed a lot more at ease. Liz said she was sorry, and knew that this wasn’t our original birth plan, but that she would do her best to support me from here. I told them that before we did anything labor related, I couldn’t pee, but really felt like I needed to. It had been 5 hours since I had had the 2 liters of IV fluids, and I hadn’t gone to the bathroom since. They set me up with another catheter, and nearly all 2 liters came out—talk about UNCOMFORTABLE, especially since my bladder had been so small for the last several months with a baby pressed up against it!
Liz said that she wanted to have me push during one of my contractions while she felt the baby’s head, to make sure that the baby wasn’t stuck. If she was stuck, we may need to have an emergency C-section. If the baby’s head moved with the contraction, she recommended Pitocin to get my contractions moving again. We did this, and the baby’s head was definitely able to move. She said that when it came to pain, an Epidural was an option, but probably wouldn’t help much at this point. She said that they were usually most effective between 3-10cm, and could actually make pushing more difficult, since I wouldn’t feel anything. She also said I could have a narcotic drip, which would feel like I had a few cocktails, but probably wouldn’t do much for me at this point, either. She was confident that the baby was in a great position, and didn’t think I had much further to go in terms of pushing, once the Pitocin kicked in—I could do this. Matt and I agreed that I would try to go ahead without anything for pain.
Matt told Liz and Tacie that I got second place on Wipeout, so he knew that I had it in me. They got a kick out of that, and spread that news down the hallway while Tacie hooked me up on the Pitocin. Liz told her to start me at a “1” (they can crank the stuff up to “10”), but Tacie put me at a “2” because she could tell I was ready to get this over with, and said that people usually start at 2. Liz had said that it could take up to 30 minutes to kick in, but it only took about 5-7 minutes for me, and they never needed to turn it up further. My contractions were strong (stronger than any of my pushing contractions from earlier in the day—but not scary or overly painful) and coming every 2 minutes or so. Liz stationed herself at the end of the bed, Tacie held one leg, Matt held the other, and Adele popped in to feed me ice chips between contractions. Liz and Tacie both told me to take a deep breath, hold longer than I thought I could, and push while I curled up from my diaphragm down. They said that of all the births they had assisted, this was the most effective way to push. This was just the opposite of what I had read about, and had originally planned to do. However, I felt like they were trustworthy, and didn’t want to waste anymore time—so I pushed their way. I suddenly had a burst of energy to blast through the finish line, and Tacie yelled instructions to me—things like “Pushpushpushpushpushpush!” and “Keep that breath! Hold it! Hold it!” and “Quick breath and one more push! Right where you left off! Don’t wait!” I know that this isn’t everyone’s style, but it was just what I needed. Matt later told me that he found himself holding his breath along with me through the pushes (Isn’t he a dear?) and was afraid that I might bust a vein on my forehead from how intensely I was pushing. I remember the bridge of the new No Doubt song, “Settle Down” was on repeat in my head like it was my anthem: “I’m a rough and tough, I’m a rough and tough, And nothin’s gonna knock this girl down.” Gwen Stefani. You nail it every time.
Liz soon announced that “birth was imminent” and the room quickly filled with additional nurses and a NICU team, who was standing by in case the baby didn’t immediately cry—then they would need to suck out her nose and throat passages with worries of the Meconium causing respiratory problems. The baby’s head began crowning about the 4th or 5th contraction, and the head came almost the whole way out, then sucked back in during the breaks between contractions. I was not having that. I got her head about halfway out with the next push, then held a sort of half-push to keep her there during my rest break. With the next contraction, I got her head all the way out, and Tacie encouraged me to keep taking another breath and do just “one more” push. Up until then, I had pushed 3 times with each contraction, but this time I did 5—and I got the rest of her body out. Apparently she shot out, along with a big squirt of Meconium that hit Liz in the shoulder.
Did I mention that birth was glamorous?
Liz held Veda up for me to see, and I stuttered out a combination of laughter and crying, “Baby! Oh, baby girl!” I can’t even describe the joy and relief I felt that she was FINALLY here! She let out a short little whine. This was enough to put the NICU nurses at ease, but she definitely didn’t cry. She was very alert and calm. Liz laid Veda on my tummy, as the cord was short, and I remember counting her fingers and toes, double checking that she was a girl, and just trying to memorize every inch of her. Matt cut the cord, and the nurses wiped her off and shoved her down Matt’s shirt for skin-to-skin contact.
Tacie and Liz helped me deliver the placenta and turned my Pitocin back on, as I experienced some postpartum hemorrhage since my “tired uterus” wasn’t contracting on it’s own to stop bleeding. The Pitocin did the trick, and there weren’t any further complications. After a few minutes, Veda was able to successfully latch on and nurse.
The nursing team all told me how impressed they were with how tough and strong I was through the pushing, and how I was handling the blood-loss and being stitched up. I was absolutely on top of the world. I wasn’t tired at all anymore. I was so happy to finally meet our daughter, that she was healthy, and that this was over! Matt was obviously elated to meet her as well, but after the nurses cleared out, he definitely crashed.
Many people have asked me if I am horribly disappointed that I ended up at the hospital. While this obviously wasn’t our plan, we feel like it was necessary, and just part of our story. We tried everything that we could to do it outside of the hospital, but there was a medical need to be there. We cant really be upset about that. Our original convictions to not birth at a hospital were because we felt that they rushed everyone into the same cycle of interventions without it being medically necessary. We don’t feel like we made any compromises to this philosophy. Pitocin is a synthetic version of the body’s naturally produced Oxytocin, which causes contractions. More often than not, it is used in a hospital birth before it is truly “medically necessary,” but rather when it is convenient for the doctor or patient. In my case, it was medically necessary. We also feel that our experience at the hospital was as ideal as it possibly could be. I was so relieved that Liz and Tacie understood that we didn’t really want to be in a hospital, and that they wanted to respect our wishes throughout our stay there. I was comfortable and confident in their abilities. The birthing room also seemed to be as ideal as a hospital room could be, and we were able to check out only 12 hours after Veda was born, so we could return to the birth center for our postpartum care. Transferring to the hospital was our story—there wasn’t anything wrong with that. We were also extremely happy with our experience at Andaluz with our midwives. I never felt that I was in danger, and I fully trusted my midwives abilities, as well. I also loved the prenatal and postpartum care there.
In terms of advice, no matter your approach to birth, I have three takeaways…
1) Carefully consider how and who you will keep updated through the process. This was our first rodeo, we were over-the-moon excited, and lets face it, we wanted to tweet that ish. We had no clue that we still had days to go after my water “breaking” Friday night. Next time, we will be a lot more cautious in this department.
2) Have a great birth partner—whoever it is, it makes a world of a difference to be supported and encouraged.
3) Expect the unexpected. Try not to hold on too tightly to any pre-conceived expectations, or make comparisons to other birth stories. Labor and birth are a thing to be embraced and surrender to. Even if you are someone like me, who thrives on lists and schedules, prepare yourself to let go—anything else allows room for disappointment. Enjoy the journey, and accept your story exactly the way it is.
Oh, and it was abso-toot-ly 100% worth it. Every contraction, every hour, every tear—WORTH IT. In fact, call me crazy, but I already told Matt that I was ready to do it again when Veda was only 3 weeks old. That doesn’t mean we are immediately going to try to do this again, but I didn’t need years to forget, like I have heard some people say. I remember it well, and I would still do it again.
In fact, I probably will.
Veda Evelyn Voisine, 7 lbs. 5 oz., 19.5” born July 31, 2012 at 4:00am